Classical Tornado

Fusing some calm classical music with an interesting view of a mini tornado. Tornado video shot at the Ontario Science Centre in the Living Earth exhibit; audio taken from the song ‘Pachabelly’ on the YouTube Audio Library.

Science Slam: The Extreme Universe

[This post is co-written by Jesse Rogerson and Lianne Manzer.]

The Ontario Science Centre holds four or five star parties each year, in collaboration with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (Toronto Faction). These are always free events, and are great for both newcomers to the world of astronomy, and also to seasoned vets interested in doing a little outreach. Included in a Science Centre Star Party is a chance to see through some great telescopes (thanks to RASC), participate in various small science experiments/demonstrations, and watch some experts give presentations on various astronomy topics. On 12 July 2013, the Science Centre added a new element to the Star Party equation: the Science Slam. The structure of a Science Slam is, rather than having 1 presenter give a public talk, multiple presenters compete for the most entertaining presentation (by audience applause). The Science Slam structure is growing in popularity (mostly overseas, watch this EinsteinSlam out of Germany). This format of public outreach forces presenters to think of what is not JUST educational, but also entertaining.

The theme of the Ontario Science Centre’s Summer Star Party & Science Slam was the ‘Extreme Universe’ (happily in accordance with their new planetarium show launching this fall). There were four presentations for the slam: Extreme Distances presented by Randy Attwood (of SpaceRef), Finding Exosolar Planets presented by Lisa Esteves, Globular Clusters presented by Ryan Marciniak (of Astronomy in Action), and finally, Gravity in the Extreme, presented by Lianne Manzer and Jesse Rogerson. Here’s the promotional poster for the event:

This is an advertising poster for the July 12th Star Party and Science Slam at the Ontario Science Centre

This is an advertising poster for the July 12th Star Party and Science Slam at the Ontario Science Centre

Both of us (Lianne and Jesse) do research in the field of Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN) (you can read Jesse’s Research Blog, or check his work here); AGN are powered by super massive black holes, which possess the most extreme gravitational fields possible. Since the the theme of the science slam was the ‘Extreme Universe,’ we decided gravity was a fun topic to cover. The presentation we designed was created to step people up from the gravity they know (Earth’s gravity), to the most extreme gravity possible (a black hole’s) by using simple demos and analogies.

The Presentation

We started by demonstrating Earth’s gravity (1g) by simply dropping two objects of similar size, but different mass, and explaining how gravity accelerates objects of different mass equally (check out the most ultimate version of this test here). We then compared Earth’s 1g to Kepler 22b‘s (roughly) 2g by creating what we called the Gravity Sim 22000; GS22000 was just ankle/wrist weights and two backpacks full of textbooks desgined to make someone of roughly 100lbs feel as if they were 200lbs. Our volunteer loved it! The next step was the Sun’s gravity (30g), and then on to a White Dwarf’s gravitational field, which is 10 000g. In order to demonstrate the difference in magnitude between 1g and 10 000g, we compared the difference in magnitude of a burning match, to the explosion of a hydrogen balloon. A Hydrogen balloon explosion gives off about 10 000x more energy than a match, which is the same difference in magnitude of the gravity of Earth compared to the gravity on a White Dwarf. Here’s a pic of me exploding the balloon:

Exploding a balloon full of hydrogen gas for onlookers at the Ontario Science Centre's Star Party & Science Slam. Photo Credit: Frankie Yau

Exploding a balloon full of hydrogen gas for onlookers at the Ontario Science Centre’s Star Party & Science Slam. Photo Credit: Frankie Yau

Finally, we finished up our presentation by comparing Earth’s 1g to a black hole’s 1E16g (that’s 100 00 000 000 000 000g). That’d be the same difference in magnitude of a match compared to an atom bomb!

Why we do it

I loved the format of the Science Slam, because not only do I get to have a lot of fun with topics I find VERY interesting, but the audience has a bunch of fun as well. We all get excited about different things: some love movies, some love comics, some enjoy drawing, some like making models, some enjoy exercising, or hiking, or exploring, or geocaching…. I could go on. Everybody has SOMEthing. And what’s better than sharing that experience with others? It makes your own interests that much better when other people are enjoying it with you. That’s why we like talking about what happened in TV shows, or books…it’s why we have friends. This is exactly why I like presenting science to people. When I present, I’m telling people why I find astronomy so interesting. Hopefully, they will find it just as interesting as I do!

After the Science Slam, and after I got home, I tweeted this pic of all the cool stuff I got for presenting

After the Science Slam, and after I got home, I tweeted this pic of all the cool stuff I got for presenting

Music Monday with Chris Hadfield

Music Monday, a program run by The Coalition for Music Education, designed to use the power of music to highlight the role of music in children’s education, and to create a sense of community and unity in Canada. This year, Music Monday was held on 6 May 2013 and harnessed the celebrity nature of Commander Chris Hadfield, the Canadian Astronaut who is currently orbiting the Earth in the International Space Station (he is slated to de-orbit 14 May 2013). Apart from being a very accomplished academic, pilot, and astronaut, Hadfield is ALSO an accomplished and gifted musician. Before heading to orbit in December 2012, Hadfield co-wrote a song with Ed Robertson (of the Bare Naked Ladies). The song was called I.S.S. (Is Somebody Singing); check out the youtube video. In that video, the song is actually recorded WHILE Hadfield is in space. Amazing.

For Music Monday, schools and science centres across Canada learned the lyrics to I.S.S. in preparation for a country-wide Earth to Space sing-along. The event was hosted by the Ontario Science Centre, where a live link to the International Space Station was set up. From there the event was also webcast for the rest of Canada (and the world) to participate. Here is an image from the Great Hall at the Ontario Science Centre.

2013-05-06 12.15.05

Near to 1000 people packed the room to see presentations from local schools, glee clubs, and of course the nation-wide sing-along. At 12:30pm EDT Chris Hadfield himself joined the festivities, seen here on the big screen (with his floating guitar).

2013-05-06 12.31.24Then for a brief 4 minutes just after 12:30pmEDT on 6 May 2013, Canada sang in unison (sorry about the bad video):

So much fun.

2013-05-06 15.01.06


Today I was being trained on a demonstration that included many fire elements. This one was the first one I got to try. Stick with it, the video goes dark, but you can see the pilot light at the end of the tube throughout. Keep watching!



Sometimes…(no wait…ALWAYS) at my job, ‘trainings’ feel like playtime.

‘Choose a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.’ -Confucius

Science does my head in

The title of this blog is borrowed from a blog post written by Kevin Von Appen (@kevinvonappen), Director of Science Communications at the Ontario Science Centre. Kevin writes a ‘behind the scenes’ blog called Inside Out, hosted on the homepage of the Ontario Science Centre, the purpose of which is to give a little flavour of the life behind the exhibits. On 8 August 2012, Kevin wrote a post entitled ‘Science Does My Head In,’ which features something I take for granted every day at work!

I went into the kitchen in the back labs of the Science Centre to microwave my leftover chicken – and walked smack into a debate on the nature of the universe. One of our Hosts – those folks in the lab coats you see on our floor – who also happens to be an astronomer, and one of our researcher/programmers, who also happens to be an astronomer, were talking about what it would really mean when we got the signal from Curiosity that it had touched down….

Here’s the thing, said Rajiv the Host:  it would take 14 minutes for that signal to travel to Earth. In earlier views of the universe, the event of the landing and the event of us getting the news (yay!) about the event of the landing would be understood as purely separate events, separated by time. But seen through a lens of our current understanding (which is based on Einstein’s relativity theory), there is only NOW. So the fact that we get the signal 14 minutes after the event is neither here nor there – for us, touchdown is NOW because the signal is NOW. We only perceive it as later, and so we’re, um, wrong.
~Kevin Von Appen

Read the whole blog post here, and if you’re interested in more online content from the Ontario Science Centre, visit the Science Now page: